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Top Obama fundraisers among state dinner guests

From left, Samantha Cameron, wife of British Prime Minister David Cameron, first lady Michelle Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama wave from the balcony of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 14, 2012, during a state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn. From left, Samantha Cameron, wife of British Prime Minister David Cameron, first lady Michelle Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama wave from the balcony of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 14, 2012, during a state arrival ceremony on the South Lawn. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
By Jack Gillum
Associated Press / March 14, 2012
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WASHINGTON—The White House extended state dinner invitations to more than 30 of President Barack Obama's top fundraisers, including a handful of donors to an independent political group backing his re-election effort, an Associated Press review has found.

Such coveted seats for Wednesday's event honoring British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife went to about two dozen supporters who each raised $200,000 or more for Obama's campaign. Those included film producer Harvey Weinstein, New York financier Orin Kramer and Miami public-policy consultant Joseph Falk.

Indeed, it is not uncommon for presidents to reward major supporters with access to dignitary dinners: President George W. Bush invited dozens of his "pioneer" supporters to state dinners, and President Bill Clinton did the same. But Obama previously has criticized Washington's pay-for-access privileges, and even donors themselves complained early in his presidency that they were kept at arm's length.

The AP's review also found some of those same donors, including Kramer and Falk, have written big checks to Priorities USA Action, a "super" political action committee run by former White House aides. Both donors contributed more than $10,000 to the group, which has struggled to raise the kind of big cash that Republican-leaning super PACs have banked on.

The nearly three dozen top donors who mingled with the dinner's 360 total guests are also known as "bundlers" -- the high-profile fundraisers who collect campaign checks from friends and business associates. Since federal campaign rules cap individual contribution limits -- $2,500 each for the primary and general elections -- bundlers have become significant figures for Obama's campaign.

All told, bundlers at Wednesday's event raised more than $8 million for his re-election efforts, records show.

"I'm so thrilled he's running for re-election," said Weinstein, who raised more than $500,000 this campaign. "He's done a fantastic job, and he's the most underestimated president I've seen. He's too humble, and his accomplishments far outweigh his esteem, but people will learn that in time."

Obama and the Democratic Party have cashed more than $250 million in contributions as of late January, surpassing all of his potential Republican challengers, including frontrunner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But Democratic strategists have warned that the president faces the potential of being out-raised by major sources of cash supporting the eventual GOP nominee come this summer.

In turn, Obama encouraged his supporters last month to donate to Priorities USA Action, a decision that drew criticism from campaign-finance watchdogs and Republicans who said Obama flip-flopped on his earlier stance assailing super PAC money. For their part, Democratic aides said they were playing by the same rules as everyone else, but also conceded they would not be left at a disadvantage in November.

An Obama campaign spokesman declined to comment for this story.

While Obama's campaign has released its list of bundlers, Romney has yet to disclose the identities of his major fundraisers.

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Follow Jack Gillum at http://twitter.com/jackgillum

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